Trespassing on school premises should be a criminal offence, a headteacher told a London conference on school security last week.
Lesley King, co-director of Stantonbury Campus, a 2,400-pupil grant-maintained comprehensive in Milton Keynes, told delegates: "The law relating to trepass lacks teeth."
The police could do little to help schools, she argued, because trespass was a civil offence and not liable to prosecution under criminal law. She said there had been three attacks by strangers on Stantonbury Campus students this year.
Education and Employment Secretary Gillian Shephard, who opened the conference of teachers and education and police officials, said the law could be enforced more rigorously and there might be a case for strengthening it to help schools to deal with intruders.
The conference was held a year after the murder of headteacher Philip Lawrence and in a week that saw the conviction of a paranoid schizophrenic, Horrett Campbell, on seven charges of attempted murder following an attack on children and adults at St Luke's School, Wolverhampton, in July.
Delegates heard that criminals were increasingly turning to schools as business security systems became more sophisticated.
Stantonbury, which is responsible for 15 school and community buildings on a large open-plan campus, has entered into a service-level agreement with the police. The agreement means the school knows what it can expect from the police, and the police know the school will not waste its time.
Stantonbury's security measures include alarms, toughened glass, new signs, pruning back shrubs and foliage, fencing and lighting, visitor badges, lockable bicycle compounds (which have virtually halted bike theft), new windows overlooking car parks, and two-way radios for PE staff ( two members of staff have been attacked by dogs).
Lesley King explained that the school did not have a discipline problem, and that one of its biggest problems was litter.
But she added that there had been disappointments. Security bars had been hacked from windows, doors had been left open by staff, and once some valuable art prints were stolen by bogus cleaners.
The school has decided it needs a comprehensive closed-circuit television system, but even limited coverage would cost Pounds 50,000.
It has reserved Pounds 20,000 of its budget for CCTV, and has applied unsuccessfully for a Home Office grant. It cannot ask its local education authority for help because it is grant-maintained.
Bill Sulman, chairman of the Association of Local Authority Risk Managers and risk manager for Nottinghamshire County Council, told the conference that the payback on school security was normally two to three years.
Three Nottinghamshire secondary schools, Bigwood, Holgate and Henry Mellish, were spending Pounds 35,000, Pounds 47,000 and Pounds 36,000 a year on repairing criminal damage five years ago, he said. Security measures including fencing, up-grading of alarms and compartmentalising school buildings to stop fire spreading had cost the three schools Pounds 60,000, Pounds 65,000 and Pounds 48,000 respectively and reduced the damage by 80 per cent.
The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which specialises in advice on personal safety, is to run a series of conferences next year on safety in schools. The trust will present its research on violence in schools, funded by the Department for Education and Employment